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Thylacinus cynocephalus (Tasmanian Tiger)



Common names: Tasmanian tiger, Tasmanian wolf, Marsupial wolf, hyena, zebra-wolf


  • once widespread
  • disappeared from mainland Australia 2000 – 3000 years ago; probably suffered in competition with dingoes
  • ran into problems with European settlers in Tasmania when the animals affected livestock

1830 *

  • a bounty system for thylacine scalps was introduced; firstly by the Van Dieman’s Land Co and then by the State Government

1933 *

  • last wild thylacine was shot

1936 *

  • last captive thylacine died in Hobart zoo


  • thylacine declared a protected species


  • David Fleay led a ‘ tiger hunt’ to the west coast of Tasmania; found fresh tracks and baited traps to capture an animal; a Thylacine approached a trap but escaped


  • part of the lower jaw aged around 10,000 years was found in New Guinea


  • almost complete skeleton found in a cave on the Nullabor Plain; aged about 3250 years


  • almost complete mummified carcass found in a cave near Eucla, WA; aged about 4500 years


  • comprehensive search fails to find anything


  • sighting by National Parks & Wildlife Officer


  • extensive search failed to find any evidence
  • sightings and collections of dung and hair continue to be reported but there has been no firm evidence
  • there have been numerous ‘sightings’ in southwest WA and in VIC


  • dog-like
  • carnivorous marsupial
  • body length of 1.2m (4ft); tail length 0.5m (1.6ft); weight 25kg (55lb)
  • 15-20 dark stripes across its back and rump
  • backward-opening pouch
  • rigid tail like a kangaroo – couldn’t be wagged
  • enormous jaw gape; when a thylacine yawned, the upper and lower
  • jaws formed almost a straight line


  • open woodlands with rocky outcrops where lairs were established


  • wallabies, bandicoots and other small marsupials, echidnas, birds, reptiles
  • sheep, chickens


  • not seen very often even when relatively common
  • spent the day in cave except for basking in midday sun
  • hunted from dusk to dawn, usually alone
  • followed the scent of its prey
  • chased prey at a measured pace until prey was exhausted
  • killed by biting the neck


  • mating season was in spring
  • young found in the pouch all year round
  • produced 3 or 4 young that were 2 cm long
  • young left pouch after 3-4 months but kept returning for milk until 9 months

References – books

  • Australia’s Amazing Wildlife, 1985. Bay Books, Kensington NSW.
  • Complete Book Of Australian Mammals, R Strahan (ed), 1983. Angus & Robertson Publishers, London.
  • Encyclopedia of Australian Wildlife, Reader’s Digest Australia Pty Ltd, 1997. Reader’s Digest (Australia) Pty Ltd, Surrey Hills.
  • Wildlife Conservation, HJ Frith, 1979. Angus & Robertson, London.
  • A Natural History of Australia, 1998. TM Berra, University of New South Wales Press, Sydney.
  • Bunyips & Bigpoots, M Smith, 1996. Millennium Books, Alexandria.
  • Talking of Animals, D Fleay, 1956. Jacaranda Press, Brisbane.

Pied Butcherbird


The pied butcherbird is a a mid-sized black and white songbird native to Australia. The Pied Butcherbird is across much of mainland Australia with exception to some desert locations and Tasmania. Focused primarily in woodland and water dense areas such as river systems and billabongs, the pied butcherbird is carnivorous living off a wide variety of insects popular in these areas.


Species nameOther names
Cracticus nigrogularisBlack-throated Butcherbird
Black-throated Crow-shrike
Organ Bird

Derivation of Cracticus nigrogularis:


Why Butcherbird? large food items are wedged in the fork of two branches and torn apart or butchered using the hooked beak


Size Relative to Other Birds:

Smaller birdsBirds of similar sizeLarger birds
Willie WagtailGrey ButcherbirdAustralian Magpie
Noisy MinerMagpie Larkcurrawongs
wrensSpotted Turtle-dovecrows
sparrowsCrested Pigeon 

Distinguising features

  • black head
  • hook on the tip of the beak (often broken)
  • black bib (upperbreast)
  • white belly
  • white collar
Effect of age on plummage
AdultWhite, totally black
SubadultWhite, black with dark brown tinge to wing and tail feathers (best seen in sunlight); continues for a number of years
(in its first year)
Pale buff bib, creamy belly, dark brown head, tail, and wings; moulting into subadult plumage occurs during its second summer at about 12-15 months of age
  • Adult males and females are considered sexually monomorphic (a single body type) i.e. males and females look the same BUT watch out for the colour of the collar; some birds, thought to be males, have very pristine, white collars while other birds thought to be female have a greyish tinge to the collar; this only applies to adult (completely black) birds
  • Moulting occurs during summer


  • wide vocal repertoire
  • most easily recognised call is a beautiful flute-like song usually heard early in day
  • an alarm-like call to signal the end of the day when ready to roost


Breeding SeasonAugust to December
Frequency of Breedingoncemay renest if the first nest is destroyed soon after hatching
Nest Constructionopen, bowl of sticks and twigs lined with grassa new nest is built each year, usually in a different treebuilt by dominant female of the group (occasionally another female in the group will also have nest)additional nests are built by others but are not used – practice?
Nest Locationin an upright fork, 5-15 m up, with overhanging branches for shade and out towards the edge of the foliage
Eggsincubated by dominant femalenot affected by cuckoos
Nestlings1-4, average of 2brooded by dominant femalefed by most if not all group members i.e.cooperative breeders where individuals other than the parents help to raise the young (also known in mammal and insect societies)produce faecal sacs which are removed by attendants and dropped away from the nest; fighting between helpers for possession of the sacs is not unknownjust prior to fledging, nestlings stand on the nest and stretch their wings and are lifted by the wind; those that don’t do this tend to be weak fliers initially
Fledglingsfledging occurs about 4 weeks after hatchingfledglings continue to be fed and defended by the rest of the group


invertebratesgrubs (insect larvae), worms, insects especially moths, beetles, and grasshoppers
vertebratesskinks, frogs, birds, mice
vegetable matterflower petals, fruits
  • principally carnivorous but also consume small quantities of vegetable material
  • predation style: sit and wait – perch on a branch until a food item becomes apparent; forage in air, from tree trunks (Gallery), on ground
  • why Butcherbird? large food items are wedged between two branches and torn apart or butchered using the hooked beak


RangeAustralian mainland except coastal, southern New South Wales, Victoria, southern South Australia, and south-west Western Australia
Habitatwoodlands, anywhere with treesnot in heavily timbered areas; benefited from forest clearingparks, gardens
Seasonal Movementsnone, sedentary

Endangered status – not at all!

Observer hints

Optimal times and places

  • active throughout the day but slow down around midday to early afternoon when they perch
  • likely to be feeding on the ground early in the day and late in the afternoon but close to trees
  • often seen on telegraph wires or poles
  • during breeding season, when busy feeding their young
  • CAUTION easily disturbed – give an alarm call and fly away

Relationship with people

  • will defend nest and recently fledged young vigorously
  • may hang about in the garden if a compost heap is being turned or grass mowed

Relationship with other birds

  • although the distributions of Pied Butcherbirds and Grey Butcherbirds overlap, the territories of groups of the two species do not; Pied/Grey territory boundaries are aggressively defended by the Grey
  • Butcherbirds; otherwise Pied Butcherbirds nest in the same area and sometimes in the same trees as Torresian Crows, Australian Magpies, Noisy Miners
  • nesting not affected by cuckoos
  • respond to the alarm calls of other birds especially Noisy Miners
    join with other birds particularly Noisy Miners in repelling potential predators like goannas, snakes, hawks, and cats
  • dislike Kookaburras intensely

Nearest relatives

 GENUS CracticusFAMILY Artamidae
 * grey butcherbird §
* black butcherbird §
* black-backed butcherbird §
Australian magpies §
currawongs §
Characteristicssturdy bodies
robust, straight beaks with hooked tip
black /grey / white coloration
loud voices
strong and agile in flight
* Pied Butcherbird issympatric with this species meaning that the distributions of the two species overlap(two species are said to be allopatric where distributions do not overlap)§  formerly belonged to Family Cracticidae

Social system

Seasonal movements none, sedentarymaintain permanent, year-round territories
Group size 3- 15, average of 6group sizes tend to be smaller in suburban areas than in rural areasgroups increase in size by retaining the offspring of previous years and as few birds are able to move into established territories, groups tend to be family-based
Dominance relationshipsthere is a dominant female that is involved in nesting activitiesno obvious pair bond
Lifespanat least 8 years probably much longerabout 60% of fledglings survive their first year
Dispersalfledglings remain in their natal group until they have moulted into subadult plumageoccurs prior to breeding season in June-August
Roostingmembers of a group roost together at nightlocation of the roost changes frequentlyroosting often involves a number of sneaky flights from tree to tree before settlingthere is one final alarm-like call made by a single bird in each group that can be heard during this period
Territory defence against other groupscarried out using vocal displays each day to signal who’s wherefor adjacent territories, there are aerial contests that involve magnificent circling flights, lots of noise, but very little contact; may hear the clacking of beaks
Defence against predatorsinvolves continual harrassment often worked in waves so that as one set of defenders tires another set is ready to take overworks effectively with aerial predators like hawks and Kookaburras where the defenders swoop about the head of a perched offenderwith snakes, a group of birds peck at different parts of the body of the snake causing it to writhe one way and then another until it falls off the branchcombine with Noisy Miners in these defence strategies

Rainbow Lorikeets


Rainbow Lorikeet’s is a unique species of parrot found in Australia. The rainbow lorikeet is well known for it’s unique rainbow plumage which gives it its name, covered in feathers of blue, green, yellow, orange and red.

The habitat of the rainbow lorikeet stretches from South Australia up to the furthest points of Far North Queensland and across a variety of environments from river systems, woodlands, bushland and tropical rainforests in the North.

Rainbow Lorikeet’s diets subsist primarily of seeds, fruit, pollen and nectar – the latter of which their beak and tongue has been specially adapted to retrieve from flowers. Rainbow lorikeet’s are also known to frequent populated areas where they can be fed by humans, especially camp sites and household gardens.

OrderPsittaciformescockatoos and parrots >strong, downward-curving bill; feet have two toes pointing forward and two back; can use feet like hands to manipulate food; by using feet together with strong bill, they climb well
Family      Psittacidaeparrots
brightly coloured, noisy
Sub FamilyLorinaebrush tongues
Genus        Trichoglossustricho hair glossa tongue >tip of tongue has hairy projections that soak up nectar
Specieshaematodushaematodes bloody
Common Names blue-bellied lorikeet, blue mountain lorikeet, blue mountain parrot, Swainson’s lorikeet, coconut lory, rainbow lory
Nearest RelativesTrichoglossus rubritorquisTrichoglossus chlorolepidotusRed-collared Lorikeet (sometimes considered a sub species; it occurs in the north) >Scaly-breasted lorikeet



  • head and body length 30cm (1ft); wing 15 cm (6in)
  • weight around 133g (5oz)
  • males and females are similar but female is smaller and has shorter bill
  • immature birds have duller plumage than adults; also shorter bill, body, wing


  • live to over 20 years in the wild


  • active, noisy, belligerent, conspicuous
  • strongly gregarious; usually travel in parties of a few dozen; much larger flocks congregate where there are is plenty of food
  • brush tipped tongue – adaptation for feeding on pollen and nectar
    use powder downs – special down feathers with the tip constantly breaking down to form a waxy powder that the bird spreads through the plumage during preening
  • bathe by fluttering among foliage soaked by due or rain


  • screech in flight; noisy chatter while feeding
  • flocks flying overhead respond quickly to the calls of birds feeding in trees below


  • pollen is a rich source of protein; major component of the diet
  • nectar, blossoms mainly from Myrtaceae, Proteacea, Xanthoroaceae
  • fruits, berries, seeds, occasionally insects (beetles, wasps, thrips, ants, weevils) and larvae (fly maggots, weevil larvae, moth larvae)
  • also apples, pears, mangos – can cause damage to orchards
  • also maize and sorghum crops where they feed on the unripe ‘milky’ grain

Feeding – general

  • feed throughout the day
  • 70% of their time is spent feeding
  • morning feeding session can continue for 4 hours
  • need to feed for 2-5 hours to satisfy their daily requirements
  • feeding rate : 30-40 Eucalyptus flowers per minute
  • feeding bouts are interrupted by short breaks of less than 10 seconds to look around
  • prefer to feed on flowers in the outer foliage of a tree
  • when it’s hot, they have a break in the middle of the day and return to a feeding area later
  • daily journeys to feeding site of more 50kms (30miles)
  • drink water that has been trapped by leaves or interlocking fronds; also drink surface water
  • Arrangement of the toes and use of the bill make them acrobatic feeders

Feeding methods

  • extract nectar with their brush-tipped tongue after first crushing the flowers with their bill; tiny hair-like projections (papillae) on the end of the tongue are extended while feeding to soak up nectar and gather pollen from blossoms
  • use open bill in sideways brushes up and down the sides of spiked flowers like Xanthorrhoea, Banksia, Melaleuca, Callistemon; this collects pollen and nectar droplets on the edge of their bills
  • place open bill over a blossom and project their tongue into the receptacles to get at the nectar then comb their bill across the stamens to collect pollen
  • for hard fruits of rainforest trees, they grate the fruit on the inside of their open bill
  • extract seeds from sheoak cones and pieces by using the tip of the upper mandible to ease the winged seed from the dehiscing cone
    sweet, fleshy fruits are removed from seed by rolling it with their tongue against the plates inside the upper mandible
  • chew green Eucalyptus flower and leaf buds


  • very fast with rapid wingbeats
  • fly high when travelling long distances; on short flights manoeuvre between trees
  • establish flight paths from the roosting sites that are followed daily; these paths tend to follow geographic features like the coastline or a line of hills, valleys, rivers
  • daily journeys to feeding site of more 50kms (30 miles)
  • have established flight paths to and from the roost that are 2-4km wide (1.2-2.4 miles)
  • the wing loadings and aspect ratios of their wings mean that they have difficulty landing and taking off from the ground but that they have an advantage for long-range flight at high speed


  • although tens of thousands of birds may gather overnight in a roost, during the day they tend to move in smaller groups
  • usually groups of less than 10 birds leave the roost together in the morning
  • throughout the day, travelling flocks have about 16 members
  • feeding flocks may number up to 20 birds
  • sometimes see very large flocks of up to 1000 birds when several travelling flocks land before returning to the roost

Habitat & distribution


  • rainforest, open forest, woodland, heath, mangroves, along watercourses, mallee, gardens, parks, orchards considered a lowland species, but in Australia it is not uncommon to find them in mountainous regions – they may be altitudinal migrants


  • northern Australia from Kimberley region to Cape York
  • eastern Australia along the east coast and around to Eyre Peninsula in South Australia also occur in the regions of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and New Caledonia
  • reproductive cycle, community organisation, and movements are determined by the flowering patterns of their food resources
  • local patterns of distribution have altered with the introduction of food sources in suburban gardens
  • nomadic – go where the food is; food resources tend to be abundant but short-lived; however, they can remain within an area if there are enough food patches to sustain them throughout the year


  • raptors – peregrine falcon, brown falcon, whistling kite
  • diamond python

Relationship with other birds

  • frequently seen with Scaly-breasted Lorikeets
  • may also flock with Musk or Little Lorikeets
  • unlike many native birds, the Rainbow Lorikeet competes successfully against Indian Mynas and Starlings for nesting hollows
  • will chase much larger birds from what it considers to be its food; also chase Scaly-breasted Lorikeets and Noisy Friarbirds from flowers that they fancy


Pair bond

  • birds are thought to mate for life (like most parrots) pairs preen and nibble each other during rest periods
  • resting pairs display minor aggression towards nonpair birds by biting and protesting


  • hollow limb or hole in a tree up to 25m (80 ft) above the ground, with a layer of wood dust at the bottom; eggs are laid on the wood dust 0.5-1.5m (1.5-5 ft) in from the entrance to the hole which may be a knot-hole or from a broken-off branch a number of hollows are investigated before one is chosen
  • nesting can continue for 8 months annually beginning around March
  • doesn’t nest in rainforest, prefers more open country


  • 2 (rarely 3) white, oval-shaped eggs
  • a pair can produce up to 3 broods in a season


  • female incubated even though the male spends time in the nesting hollow; lasts about 25 days


  • both parents feed the young young leave the nesting hollow for the first time after 7-8 weeks but return to the nest to roost for a short time;
  • fledglings may remain with the parents over summer before moving into the communal roost
  • birds reach sexual maturity after two years

Roosting – general

  • roost size varies seasonally – can be up to 50,000 birds
  • in autumn and winter, non-breeding birds use a communal roost while breeding birds roost in nest hollows
  • commute to feeding grounds usually found within a 35km (20 miles) radius of the roost; major roosts tend to be found at roughly 70km (43 miles) intervals; minor roosts are found between the major ones; these are used on a temporary basis often with Scaly-breasted Lorikeets
  • leave in semi-darkness; often the first birds that are active for the day; on misty mornings, flocks leaving the roost circle and gain height perhaps in order to recognise landforms
  • at the end of the day, return to communal roost before sunset but there is lots of activity and noise in the roosting trees as the birds jostle for position and this continues well after dark
  • day roost (10-100 birds) – during the heat of the day they mutually preen or strip leaves and twigs from branches; single birds or pairs return after feeding briefly
  • searching for new food sources may occur during flights to and from the roost and during the middle of the day

Function of roosting

There are a range of theories to explain roosting and flocking behaviour in birds such as these:

  • place for newly independent fledglings; this allows their parents to renest and helps inexperienced birds learn where food is, what food to eat, and feeding techniques (all of which could also be learned from parents)
  • reduce the variance in food intake by
    • (a) sharing information about the location of food resources which tend to be ephemeral and hence birds need to be continually on the lookout for new sources; this is unlikely in areas where flowering is widespread;
    • (b) individuals can tell whether returning birds are well-fed and so can follow these well-fed birds on the following day to their food resources
  • as a singles venue where nonbreeding birds can find mates; this would tend to synchronise breeding
  • security in numbers in respect of danger

Vocal repertoire


  • high pitched wheeze


  • made when disturbed at nesting sites or feeding on low shrubs
    accompanied by wing flapping and sideways movements of the head


  • saying ‘Here I am’


  • made by pairs talking to each other when feeding, resting, preening


  • made in flight when searching for other birds or for food

References – books

  • Books Australia’s Amazing Wildlife. 1985. Bay Books, Kensington.
  • What Bird is That? NW Cayley. 1946. Angus & Robertson, Sydney.
  • Simpson & Day Field Guide to the Birds of Australia. K Simpson, N Day & P Trusler. 1996. Viking Penguin Books Australia, Ringwood.
  • Green Guide: Parrots of Australia. T Lindsey. 1998. New Holland, Sydney.
  • Australian Parrots. JM Forshaw. 1969. Lansdowne Press, Melbourne.
  • Parrots and Pigeons of Australia. F Crome & J Shields. 1992. Angus & Robertson. Pymble.
  • A Field Guide to Nests and Eggs of Australian Birds. G Beruldsen. 1980. Rigby Publishers, Adelaide.
  • A Field Guide to Australian Birds. P Slater. 1970. Rigby Limited, Adelaide.
  • Encyclopedia of Australian Wildlife. Reader’s Digest Australia Pty Ltd. 1997. Reader’s Digest (Australia), Surrey Hills.
  • Ecological and Population Studies of a Flower Feeding Specialist, The Rainbow Lorikeet (Trichoglossus haematodus moluccanus (Gmelin)) during the extensive clearing of a coastal ecosystem in south east Queensland. JW Porter. 1993. Unpublished PhD Thesis, University of Queensland, Brisbane.

Carnivorous Marsupials


Family Dasyuridae

Ranging in size from the Tasmanian Devil with a head and body length of 65cm (22in) and weighing 9km (20lb) to the Pilbara Ningaui with a head and body length of <6cm (2in) and weighing 9.5gm (0.3oz). Little is known about many of these animals.


  • hairy-tailed
  • pointed snouts
  • teeth – lower incisors, well-developed canines, sharp cheek teeth
  • aggressive hunters
  • kill their prey by biting the back of the head and crushing the skull
  • mainly nocturnal

Diet: prey depends on the size of the hunter: the Tasmanian Devil feeds on carrion but also on possums and wallabies while the other dasyurids live on small mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, fruits.

Members of this Family are further subdivided into four groupings (subfamilies).

Tasmanian Devil

  • eats carrion mainly
  • not found on mainland

Number of species: 1


By Leonard G. (talk) – Own work (Original text: I created this work entirely by myself.), Public Domain

  • medium-sized
  • once known as native cats
  • distinguished by white spots
  • 2 other species in New Guinea
  • nest in tree hollows or in burrows

Number of species: 4


  • lives in arid, sandy areas
  • dig burrows
  • don’t need water

Number of species: 1


  • distribution restricted to southwest QLD and northeast SA

Number of species: 1


  • lives among spinifex tussocks of Pilbara region of WA

Number of species: 1


  • lives in gibber deserts of central Australia
  • dig burrows

Number of species: 1


By John Gould – John Gould, F.R.S., Mammals of Australia, Vol. I Plate 39, London, 1863. http://www.museum.vic.gov.au/bioinformatics/mammals/images/Ant_apic.htm, Public Domain

  • finds insects in leaf litter
  • climbs trees to find insect prey
  • also eats nectar

Number of species: 2


  • tail acts as a storage area for food; the tail becomes fatter when food is abundant and thinner during drought

Number of species: 4

SubFamily Phascogalinae


  • claws on front paws
  • search leaf litter for insects and small lizards
  • males live for only a year; females may survive for 2 years
  • found in a wide range of habitats

Number of species: 7


  • skilful climbers
  • will eat birds and small mammals as well as insects

Number of species: 2

SubFamily Sminthopsinae

Commonly called marsupial mice.


  • fold of skin on stomach acts as a pouch
  • rest during the day in burrows
  • live in a wide range of habitats
  • 2 of the 19 species are also found in New Guinea
  • mainly eat insects and spiders
  • don’t require free water
  • some store energy as fat at the base of the tail
  • can become torpid when no food available

Number of species: 19


  • very long, brush-tipped tail
  • found in desert areas of central Australia

Number of species: 1

SubFamily Planigalinae

The smallest marsupials.


By John Gould – John Gould, F.R.S., Mammals of Australia, Vol. I Plate 44, London, 1863. http://www.museum.vic.gov.au/bioinformatics/mammals/images/Ant_macu.htm, Public Domain

  • some are desert dwellers and don’t require free water
  • forage and nest in cracks and crevices – protection from environment and predators

Number of species: 4


  • found in arid areas
  • obtain moisture from their insect prey and by licking dew from leaves
  • during day, shelter in hollow logs, borrowed burrows, or undergrowth

Number of species: 3

Possums and Gliders


This collection of marsupials includes 26 animals from six different Families. All are arboreal and have adaptations for this lifestyle.

Features: agile climbers, mostly nocturnal

Diet: members of each Family eat some of the following:
insects under tree bark, tree sap, nectar, honeydew, pollen, fruits, acacia gum, small animals, leaves, bird eggs

Family Acrobatidae

Feathertail Glider

Diet: eats insects, pollen, nectar

  • tail used as a rudder in flight, for grasping on landing
  • large serrated toe pads to cling to smooth surfaces
  • smallest gliding mammal

Number of species: 1

Family Tarsipes

Honey Possum

  • eats pollen, nectar
  • tail used for grasping

Number of species: 1

Family Phalangeridae

  • Brush-tailed and scaly-tailed possums and cuscuses belong to this Family.
  • tail has a friction pad of naked skin on the underside for gripping branches forward-facing pouch

Diet: leaves, fruit, flowers

Within this Family there are three groupings :

Brush-tailed Possums

  • feed on the ground as well as in trees
  • have a scent gland on the chest for marking

Number of species: 2

Scaly-tailed Possum

  • found in the Kimberley region of WA

Number of species: 1


  • found in rainforest of north QLD
  • also found in New Guinea

Number of species: 2

Family Petauridae

Gliding Possums

  • thin membrane of loose, fur-covered skin between wrist and ankle
  • eat insects under bark of trees, tree sap, honeydew, acacia gum, nectar, pollen, fruit

Number of species: 6

Family Pseudocheiridae

  • tail coils around branches and has a friction pad of naked skin on the underside at the tip
  • active at night, during daytime they rest in nests, in tree hollows, on open branches, epiphytic plants

Diet: mainly leaves

This Family has two subdivisions :

Ringtail Possums

  • builds a nest in a tree for daytime resting

Number of species: 7

Greater Glider

  • gliding membrane attaches to the elbow and ankle

Number of species: 1

Family Burramyidae


  • opposable big toe for climbing
  • tail used for grasping
  • becomes still and torpid on cold winter days

Kangaroos and their relatives


Two families of animals are included in this grouping; the macropodoids and the potoroids. Members of both families have short forelimbs and long hindfeet that enable them to move in a fast hopping gait. All have a pouch that opens forwards. Most are active at night and seek shelter to rest during the day.

Family Macropodidae

Of the 40 species of macropods found in Australia, only two occur elsewhere (in New Guinea). The family contains kangaroos, wallabies, wallaroos, quokka, pademelons and ranges in size from the Red Kangaroo at 1.8m (6ft) and 90kg (198lb) down to the Monjon at 35cm (13in) and 1.4kg (3lb).

The distinction between ‘kangaroo‘ and ‘wallaby’ is made by size; the six largest species are known as kangaroos. Because females tend to be considerably smaller than the males, this tends to be an arbitrary distinction as females of one species may be smaller than males of another.

Features: Rest during the day under bushes and logs

Diet: The larger members of the group graze in grasslands whilst others browse on leaves

Within this Family there are several groupings:

Kangaroos, Wallabies, and Wallaroos

A very diverse group, collectively found in most habitats

Number of species: 13


Spend most of their time in trees, primarily rainforest

Able to move one hind leg at a time which allows them to walk along branches rather than hop

Number of species: 2

Nailtail Wallabies

Horny spur at the tip of their tails

Number of species: 2


About the size of a hare

Move very rapidly if chased and zigzag to avoid capture hence the name Lagorchestes (Greek for dancing hare)

Number of species: 3


Medium-sized inhabit rainforest & dense eucalypt forest

Generally solitary, they gather on open feeding grounds at night but never venture far from cover

Number of species: 3


Well known on Rottnest Island, WA but found only in isolated pockets on the mainland

Number of species: 1

Swamp Wallaby

Quite distinct from the other wallabies live in forested areas with a dense understorey

Feed throughout the day and night on grasses, low shrubs, ferns but during the day they stay in forested areas that provide cover from predators

Number of species: 1


Found on rocky escarpments, cliffs shelter in caves and crevices can climb trees if the trunks are not vertical

Relatively short hind feet, soles are thickly padded and provide traction on slippery surfaces

Number of species: 15

Family Potoroidae

Commonly called rat-kangaroos.

Diet: fruits, roots, leaves, seeds, fungi, some also eat invertebrates

Within this Family there are three groupings:

Musky Rat-kangaroo

Lives in rainforest uses all 4 feet for moving around

Active during the day


Build nests to shelter during the day (one species burrows)

Live in open forest areas

Number of species: 5


Live in forests with a dense understorey shelter under tussocks and shrubs

Feed mainly on fungi

Number of species: 2



Marsupials evolved in North America, found their way to South America, and then into Australia via Antarctica when the southern continents were joined as Gondwana. In Australia they diversified to fill many niches. Most of the 140 species of marsupials in Australia are found nowhere else in the world; some of them are also found in New Guinea which was connected to Australia in more recent geological times.

A marsupium or pouch is one of the features that characterise marsupials although not all have a permanent pouch and a few have none at all. They are similar to mammals in being covered in fur and bearing live young which are suckled by the mother. In marsupials the gestation period is very short resulting in the birth of undeveloped young. Although blind, without fur, and with hindlimbs only partially formed these tiny newborns have well developed forelimbs with claws that enable them to make their way into the pouch and attach to a teat and continue their development.

The trade-off of the short pregnancy is the lengthy period of lactation during which the young remain in the pouch and the composition of the milk produced by the mother changes depending on the developmental stage  of the young. Here is an overview of the diversity of marsupials that inhabit Australia.

This survey details the main groupings of marsupials based primarily on the taxonomic level of Family but in a couple of instances similar Families are combined. For each grouping, the features of the group are shown rather than detailed data on any one animal.  There is also a list of all marsupials to help in locating a particular animal within its grouping.Select one of the following for information on the Family/Families: Koala, Carnivorous marsupials, Wombats, Numbat, Kangaroos & Relatives, Bandicoots & Bilbies, Possums & Gliders, Marsupial, moles.

Marsupial Species in Australia


The koala is the sole representative of this family; its closest relatives are the wombats. Koalas live on eucalyptus leaves and spend most of their time in trees sleeping during the day. The pouch is backward opening.

Family Vombatidae

There are 3 species in this family; the common wombat and the two hairy-nosed wombats (northern and southern). They have sturdy bodies and strong limbs for digging the burrows in which they sleep, hibernate, and raise their young. Active at night, they feed on grasses and herbs. Like the koala, the pouch is backward opening.


  Family Myrmecobiidae

The numbat is the only representative of this Family. Its distribution is restricted to southwest WA but numbers are thought to be increasing.


  • diurnal but activity depends on soil temperature :
    – in winter, active during the day
    – in summer, active in morning and late afternoon
  • at night, rests in a nest in hollow logs and burrows
  • no pouch
  • a number of distinct white bands on its lower back


  • termites

Bandicoots & Bilbies


  • rat-sized
  • long snout
  • pointed teeth
  • run on all 4 feet
  • nocturnal; rest in a nest on the ground during the day


  • insects, worms, seeds, berries
FamilyAnimalNumber of species
  PeroryctidaeNew Guinea Bandicoots1

Marsupial Mole

Order Notoryctemorphia / Family Notoryctidae The sole member of this Family is found in sandy, desert areas of central Australia.


  • blind
  • no external ears
  • forelimbs are specialised for digging and sand-swimming
  • backwards-opening pouch
  • lives underground


  • insect larvae and pupae, ants



The most widespread of the mammals in Australia, the Echidna is a small spiney anteater which can survive from arid conditions, forests to the snow covered mountain regions of Australia. One of the two monotremes, the Echidna reproduces laying eggs. Sometimes called the porcupine of Australia, they’re not directly related.

Echidnas as small mammals weighing between 3.5-9kg, with either a short or long snout dependent on the sub species. Due to their small size and slow speed, the echidna protects itself by either hiding, or curling into a ball being protected by their spikey exterior. In soft soils echidnas will sometimes bury themselves if the opportunity arises.


ClassMammaliamonotremes, marsupials, & placental or eutherian mammalsfur, ability to maintain constant body temperature by internal mechanisms
OrderMonotrematawith one hole
platypus & echidnaslay eggs, have no teats, single opening (cloaca) for waste products and reproduction (like reptiles and birds), no whiskers, no teeth, no external ears
GenusTachyglossustachy rapid glossus tongue
 short beaked echidna, spiny anteater, native porcupinethe common name of echidna comes from an earlier scientific name of Echidna hystrix which referred to the Greek goddess Ekhidna who was half reptile, half mammal – reference to an animal that had fur and lactated but layed eggs
Echinda burningwell



  • medium-sized, stocky body, small head with long snout, sharp spines on back and sides, very strong


  • Weight: 2-7 kg (4-15lbs)
  • Length: 30-45cm (12-18 inches)


  • spines intermingle with fur
  • density of fur varies with habitat – dense in Tasmania and in alpine regions; in dry and northern areas, fur is sparse


  • covered with tough, hairless skin containing glands and sensory receptors nostrils are at the end of the snout
  • used to crush large prey items so that they will fit into the mouth
  • tongue can extend 18cm (7in) beyond the end of the snout; flicks in and out up to 100 times per minute; tip of the tongue can bend into a U shape allowing it access to the narrow galleries of ant and termite nests
  • stickiness of the tongue caused by saliva the consistency of treacle


  • front claws are more powerful than the hind ones, used for digging; the hind claws are used in grooming
  • young echidnas have nonvenomous spines on the inside of their hind feet; males retain one or both while females may retain one (rare)



  • found throughout Australia; echidnas have overlapping home ranges but tend to be solitary except for mating
  • home range of 50 hectares on average across different habitats


  • very adaptable
  • hot arid interior (Simpson Desert) to above the snow line in alpine regions
  • flat scrub with sand and tussock to steep rocky mountain country



  • mainly ants and termites, but also earthworms, small beetles, larvae of moths and beetles
  • avoid the larger biting ants; prefer larvae, pupae, queen, winged ants (not immune to ant bites; roll over and scratch to dislodge biting ants) prefer termites to ants – prefer queens and nymphs; termites live in larger colonies and ants have a larger proportion of their mass as non-digestible exoskeleton


  • trap ants by lying on top of the mound with tongue extended on the surface; ants walk onto tongue; can continue for hours
  • use front claws to turn over leaf litter or rip into rotting timber
  • use snout to turn over soft soil
  • use front claws to burrow into mounds – usually in late winter and early spring in the late afternoon when the queens move into the surface galleries thus ensuring the greatest return for the least expenditure of energy


  • for a 3kg animal – 200gms of ants in 10 minutes



  • Echidnas have no fixed nest site, shelters under thick bushes, in hollow logs, under piles of debris, or in caves or crevices; use burrows constructed by  wombats and rabbits


  • in cold areas, hibernates for 6-28 weeks of the year depending on local conditions, and factors related to reproduction; males can go into hibernation earlier than females with young; yearlings that don’t breed stay longer in hibernation
  • have no sweat glands and do not pant, so need to shelter from heat – activity depends on temperature; in hot areas, tends to feed at night; temperate areas commonly feeds around dawn and dusk; when cold may be active in the middle of the day


  • Echidnas live more than 10 years; record of 49 years in a Philadelphia zoo



  • no fixed nest site, shelters under thick bushes, in hollow logs, under piles of debris, or in caves or crevices; use burrows constructed by  wombats and rabbits


  • in cold areas, hibernates for 6-28 weeks of the year depending on local conditions, and factors related to reproduction; males can go into hibernation earlier than females with young; yearlings that don’t breed stay longer in hibernation
  • have no sweat glands and do not pant, so need to shelter from heat – activity depends on temperature; in hot areas, tends to feed at night; temperate areas commonly feeds around dawn and dusk; when cold may be active in the middle of the day


  • live more than 10 years; record of 49 years in a Philadelphia zoo

Nearest relatives

Zaglossus bruijni

  • the long-beaked echidna lives in the highlands of Papua New Guinea and eats mainly earthworms so it is affected by clearing of forests


  • the other monotreme, the platypus



  • dingoes, goannas, and snakes will eat the young
  • once adult, the echidna has no real enemies


  • no defensive or offensive weapons
  • a threatened echidna pulls its head in and curls into a ball to protect its belly so that all that is presented is a ball of spines
  • in soft soil, it can also dig in and disappear rapidly climb into trees or climb fences



  • May/June to September (winter)


  • both sexes give off a pungent odour during the mating season so it is likely that this is how males find females
  • trains of up to 10 males may follow nose to tail after a mature female
  • males compete for females by engaging in head-to-head pushing and bumping contests where the larger animal will be the winner


  • the male uses his snout to investigate the female’s body in general and the cloaca in particular – this can last for 5 hours
  • matings in captivity have been observed with the animals on their sides, abdomen to abdomen


  • no more than one young every year; in cold areas, females may mate only every second year
  • eggs are soft-shelled, similar to reptile eggs
  • gestation period during which the female retains the egg in her reproductive tract lasts between 21 and 28 days
  • a single egg is transferred from the cloaca to the incubation pouch which is formed by muscle contraction
  • embryo has a single egg tooth to tear open the shell to hatch after about 10 days in the pouch
  • the young echidna is called a puggle


  • milk is secreted from ducts onto two circular patches on the mother’s belly called the milk patch or aerola; the young doesn’t lick the milk from the skin but sucks it from the aerola
  • early in lactation, the milk is rich in iron; this is thought to be because the young are so small that their livers are not able to store enough iron to tide them over until they can forage for themselves


  • when the puggle is too prickly to carry, the mother leaves it in a newly-dug burrow and returns every few days to feed it
  • a young echidna emerges from the burrow at about 6 months and is weaned about 4 weeks later



  • not an essential sense
  • have colour vision
  • extent of 3D vision probably restricted


  • can detect vibrations from the ground especially through the snout
  • detect changes in position, speed, and movement in three dimensions


  • touch receptors
  • temperature receptors sensitive to cold and heat
  • electroreceptors (similar to platypus)


  • used in social situations such as mating
  • monitoring the environment


  • Echidnas of Australia and New Guinea, M Augee & B Gooden, 1993. University of New South Wales Press Ltd, Sydney
  • Encyclopedia of Australian Wildlife, Reader’s Digest Australia Pty Ltd, 1997. Reader’s Digest (Australia) Pty Ltd, Surrey Hills
  • Complete Book Of Australian Mammals, R Strahan (ed), 1983. Angus & Robertson Publishers, London

Little Penguins


Little Penguins are the smallest of the species of penguin. Growing on average to a height of 33cm and a kilogram, with the males being slightly larger than the female penguins. Found across the Southern coast of Australia and New Zealand, little penguins primarily exist in offshore colonies which protect themselves from invasive predators such as cats.

The little penguins diet primarily consists of small fish, crabs and other crustaceans. It’s not uncommon for a penguin to deep dive for their prey as deep as 60 metres, whilst the average diving time is 21 seconds.

In recent times there has been significant colony decline in many regions in Australia, however the overall population is still listed as not of concern. The primary cause of population decline is believed to be from encroaching human presence in their habitat and fishing in the feeding grounds of little penguins.

Taxonomic classification

Family      Spheniscidaeflightless pelagic seabirds, widely distributed in cooler waters of the southern hemisphere
Genus        Eudyptulaeu well, good dyptes diver
 Fairy Penguin, Little Blue Penguin, Northern or Southern Blue Penguin
Little penguin Eudyptula minor


LITTLE PENGUINS adapted primarily for swimming and diving underwater differ from other birds in several ways:

  • streamlined bodies that reduce drag while swimming
  • flippers that provide propulsion during swimming are modified wings
  • neutral buoyancy provided by bones that are solid and heavy and a layer of blubber – prevent them from sinking too deep or floating which makes diving easier
  • legs and webbed feet act as a rudder for underwater manoeuvring – short and set far back on the body giving them a waddling gait on land; despite this, they are quite agile on land although walking expends more energy than swimming
  • their feathers have become short and stiff and form a dense cover over the whole body surface which provides effective insulation against the cold
  • oil gland at the base of the tail – during preening, the waxy secretion from this gland is spread through the coat to waterproof it
  • pale fur underneath (thought to be less visible to fish) and darker above
  • sexes are similar but males are heavier and larger than females

Little Penguins

  • smallest of the penguins – only 40cm (16in) tall and 1.1kg (2.4lbs)
  • none of the plumage ornaments of the other species


  • southern coastline of Australia from Fremantle, Western Australia to northern New South Wales, mainly on the offshore islands
    also in New Zealand, Chatham Islands
  • largest known colony is on Phillip Island near Melbourne – 20,000 birds
    fledglings disperse widely; longest known movement was from Phillip Island to Spencer Gulf – 1100km (690miles)



  • varies seasonally and from year to year and also depends on the geographical location of the colony
  • small, highly mobile, midwater shoaling fish (anchovy and pilchard) and squid <12cm (5in)
  • also crustaceans
  • food resources are patchily distributed


  • foraging is a solitary activity but a number of little penguins may end up at the foraging ground
  • where food resources are patchily distributed and constantly moving (fish), individuals may experience widely varying fortunes in finding food
  • catch prey by pursuit – dive to shallow depths usually < 15m for about 23 seconds
  • the duration of foraging trips and the distances travelled vary according to season:
 Breeding seasonNon-breeding season
Distancewithin 8-15km (5-10 mile) radius from the burrow; a total distance of about 24km (15miles)up to 700km (435miles) but tend to stay within 20km (12.5miles) of shore
Duration12-18 hrsseveral days


Dependant on both land and sea for their survival


  • come ashore at night – wait for a group to gather before leaving the water and crossing the beach
  • return to land to breed and rear their young, and to moult
  • after their young are independent, they spend 6 weeks at sea to fatten-up before moulting which takes about 3 weeks; during this time the birds are confined to land and can lose up to 50% of their body mass
  • during moulting they remain in the burrow
  • individual birds are not always seen each year


  • spend the day at sea foraging
  • 80% of their time is spent at sea
  • can and do swim on the surface at speeds of 5-8km/hr (5mph)
  • when travelling long distances, they porpoise – plunge in and out of the water


Survival rates

  • less than a third of fledglings (31%) survive to maturity (about 3 years)
  • adult mortality on Phillip Island is about 25% annually – 75% survive to the next year
  • life expectancy for breeding adults = 6.5yrs; oldest known bird was 21yrs

Causes of mortality

  • almost all mortality of first- and second-year birds occurs at sea – most likely causes are starvation and internal parasites
  • adult mortality at sea caused by starvation -it is not known whether due to food shortages or bad weather that makes foraging difficult

“Wreck” of 1986

  • In autumn 1986, 2000 Little Penguins were found dead along tidelines in western Victoria – cause of death was starvation exacerbated by parasites; some of the birds had been banded at Phillip Island less than 6 months previously suggesting that most of these birds were first-year birds
  • It is thought that such concentrated mortalities occur periodically


On land

  • mainly foxes and dogs
  • interestingly it was found that cats were not a significant predator at Phillip Island
  • lizards and snakes take eggs and hatchlings

At sea

  • sharks and seals



  • breed mainly on offshore islands or along parts of the coast that have reduced access to mammalian predators; the only penguin species to nest on the Australian mainland
  • generally return to their natal colony to breed (like salmon, turtles)from year to year they return to the same location and often the same burrow
  • always breed undercover – in caves, burrows, dense vegetation


  • egg laying peaks in August – October
  • reproductively active at 2-3 years of age

Burrow construction

  • length – average of 43cm (17in) long (longest was 100cm (39in))
  • entrance hole – 14cm high x 22 cm wide (5.5 x 8.5 in)
  • excavation may take several weeks and often more than one is constructed
  • the male renovates old burrows or digs new ones


  • both male and female build nest
  • lined with plant material
  • egg laying peaks in August – October
  • most clutches have 2 eggs
  • sometimes the pair produces a second clutch in a season
  • a burrow infested with fleas is a good indicator of an active nest!

Chick rearing

  • incubation and chick rearing take around 13 weeks – shared equally by both parents; both parents have a brood patch
  • incubation of the eggs before hatching takes about 5 weeks; the hatchling stage lasts for about 8 weeks
  • chick uses an egg tooth to chip its way out of the egg; usually takes about 24 hours
  • chicks brooded for the first 7-10 days
  • one parent remains with the chicks for 20-30 days (guard stage); parents alternate duties in shifts that can last 10 days
  • usually chicks are fed regurgitated food every night
  • at three weeks of age, the chicks are active and move to the burrow entrance at dusk to wait for their parents returning with food; they gradually continue to venture further out when full-feathered when they join in groups away from the burrow
  • to keep the nest clean, the birds defecate outside the burrow entrance
  • at the end of the hatchling phase, parents abandon their broods to force the young to leave the burrow and the colony
  • crèches are uncommon in burrow colonies but small crèches of 3-6 chicks are seen in cave colonies
  • chicks weigh 36-45gms (1oz) at hatching and fledge at about 800gms (1.8lb)
  • generally both eggs hatch but only one chick survives as the parents are unable to supply sufficient food for both; the stronger, larger hatchling is fed until satisfied and then the other

Effects of Reproduction on the Parents

Body mass

  • females lose more body mass than males – 14% for females compared to 4% for males
  • unsuccessful parents lose more than successful ones
  • survival of parents is not affected by this loss of body mass

Subsequent success

  • number of chicks produced by a pair in one season is a good indicator of the number they will produce in the following year
  • older and more experienced male breeders produce more offspring than younger, less experienced ones; age and experience seems to have no effect on the reproductive success of females


  • successful parents moulted sooner after breeding than birds whose attempts failed

Social System


  • Little Penguins exhibit a complex repertoire of visual and vocal displays to cover all types of social interactions – greeting, courtship, and aggression
  • most social interactions on land take place at night
  • the birds are very vocal on land at night – they call most frequently after dusk when birds have returned from the sea and before the pre-dawn departure
  • being part of a colony with the resultant social noise results in increased rates of displaying and copulating (this apparently contagious sexual behaviour is seen in many bird species that live in colonies)


Appeasement Behaviours

  • face away from the dominant bird
  • walk with the head and body held low

Aggressive behaviours

  • direct look
  • zigzag approach
  • contact – bill to bill; bill slapping; breast butt; bill lock twist; lunge peck
  • overt – bite on neck and hit with flipper

Sexual behaviours

  • advertising – performed by unmated males
  • mutual display between pairs where one partner copies the action of the other
  • allopreening where the pair preen each other (known in lots of bird and mammal species)

Copulation behaviour

  • occurs inside or close to the burrow


Phillip Island

  • number of breeding colonies has reduced from ten to one resulting in a reduction in numbers since the turn of the century largely due to habitat loss
  • population size and number of breeding birds have continued to decline (1968-1988)

Other islands

  • no evidence of decreasing numbers in colonies on most offshore islands
  • exceptions are the islands with larger human populations



  • Emu 91:32-35
  • Emu 91 Part 5 Little Penguin Supplement
  • Fairy Penguins & Earthy People. P Reilly. 1983. Lothian Publishing Company, Melbourne.
  • Penguins. J Sparks & T Soper. 1987. The MacMillan Company of Australia, South Melbourne.
  • The Penguins. TD Williams. 1995. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  • The Penguins: Ecology and Management. P Dann, I Norman, P Reilly (eds). 1995. Surrey Beatty & Sons, Chipping Norton.


  • A Natural History of Australia. TM Berra. 1998. University of NSW Press, Sydney.
  • Australia’s Amazing Wildlife. 1985. Bay Books, Kensington.
  • Encyclopedia of Australian Wildlife, Reader’s Digest Australia Pty Ltd, 1997. Reader’s Digest(Australia) Pty Ltd, Surrey Hills.
  • Reader’s Digest Complete Book of Australian Birds. 1982. Reader’s Digest Services, Surrey Hills.
  • What Bird is That? NW Cayley. 1946. Angus & Robertson, Sydney.



The sources of this information are provided under Resources

Taxonomic classification
SuperfamilyMacropodoideabig footed
62 species in Australia & Papua New Guinea
size 1 kg – 90 kg
Family      Macroprodinaekangaroos and wallabies
Genus        Macropuskangaroos
six largest species of the family

Relationships among Kangaroos

GenusMacropusKangaroos share:large sizegrazers
– specialised teeth for cropping grass
– complex forestomachs for the breakdown of plant fibre by fermentation
Common NamesRed Kangaroo,
Marloo. Blue-flier (female)
Western Grey, black-faced kangaroo, sooty kangaroo, mallee kangaroo, stinkerEastern Grey, forester, scrubber, Great GreyAntilopine KangarooCommon Wallaroo, Euro, briggadaBlack Wallaroo
GroupingRed KangarooGrey KangaroosAntilopine KangarooWallaroo / Euro


Red Kangaroo

Black and white patch at side of muzzle; the tip of the nose is naked and sharply outlinedMale: 1.8 m 90 kg
Female: 1.25 m 35 kg

Grey Kangaroos

Muzzle covered by fine hair; only the margins of the nostrils are bare black skinMale: 1.6 m 70 kg
Female: 1.2 m 35 kg

Antilopine KangarooMale: 1.5 m 49 kg
Female: 1.0 m 20 kg


Nose is completely nakedMale: 1.6 m 58 kg
Female: 1.2 m 25 kg

Black Wallaroo

Nose is completely nakedMale: 1.0 m 22 kg
Female: 0.8 m 13 kg

*Height is measured when sitting up on their haunches.


These are actions that promote the unity of a group; don’t include either displays of aggression or reproductive behaviour

Between group members:

  • mutual nose touching and sniffing, touching the lips of another, other touching and sniffing, grooming others, nuzzling a female’s pouch
  • submissive behaviour – one animal, often smaller, holds its body close to the ground and its head may quiver
  • play-fighting among young, subadults, or mother and young – two animals involved grasp each other around the neck, touching forepaws and kicking

Mother and offspring:

  • mother grooms a young at foot while it is suckling or just after
  • young nuzzles its mother’s pouch either to get in or to suckle or for reassurance the young may put its head into the pouch for a few seconds
  • young licks its mother’s lips for several minutes, apparently collecting saliva; it is thought that this may result in the passage from mother to young of the digestive micro-organisms required for the fermentation of vegetation for nutrition
  • play-fighting


  • fights (‘boxing’) between large males are rare
  • most fights are one-sided and end quickly; the challenged individual usually moves away
  • a submissive ‘cough’/cluck is heard in eastern greys, wallaroos, euros but not in reds
  • threat displays indicate an intention to act aggressively; these include upright posture, stiff-legged walking, pulling on grass or bushes


  • Between them, the kangaroos range over most of Australia.
  • In some areas there may be only one species while in other places several species occur.

Habitat preference

Red Kangaroo

  • arid and semi-arid regions;
  • most of the vegetated habitats – grasslands, shrublands, mulga

Western Grey Kangaroo

  • dry regions of the inland (lower half of the continent) and Western Australia

Eastern Grey Kangaroo

  • eastern third of the continent;
  • wide variety of habitats – high mountain forests, semi-arid ranglands;
  • only kangaroo found in Tasmania

Antilopine Kangaroo

  • monsoonal region of north Australia;
  • grassy, eucalypt woodlands

Euro group (4 subspp)

  • most widespread of the kangaroos;
  • most of the continent except the southern edge;
  • rough, hilly country

Black Wallaroo

  • central and western Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory;
  • woodlands, shrub cover, monsoonal forest


  • reds and greys may feed in large mobs – size depends on the quality of food
  • most active at dawn and dusk; relatively inactive in middle of both day and night
  • time spent grazing varies seasonally between 7 and 14 hours
  • rest during the day in the shade of woodland; move onto grasslands to feed
  • eat a variety of plants but mainly grasses


  • kangaroos are unique in being the only large animals that use hopping for locomotion
  • they walk at slow speeds and start hopping as speed increases

Energetics of hopping

  • when hopping starts its costs are high
  • as speed increases, the energy costs change little which means that a kangaroo hopping at a moderate speed (>15 km/hr) uses less energy than a similarly-sized animal that is running
  • for red kangaroos, the most comfortable speed is 20-25 km/hr
  • as speed increases up to about 40 km/hr, the hopping rate remains constant but the length of the hop increases
  • although red kangaroos can hop at speed of 65-70 km/hr for short distances, at these speeds the hopping rate increases as well as the hop length
  • while hopping has benefits in energy expenditure at high speed, at low speeds (below 6 km/hr) they have an awkward walk using their hind legs with the tail providing additional support for the front legs, and this is both clumsy and energetically expensive

Causes of mortality

Lack of Nutrition

  • particularly in young animals that don’t have body reserves


  • dingoes, eagles, foxes, humans


  • filarioid nematode worm, Pelecitus roemeri found in the connective tissue; lumpy jaw caused by bacterium Fusobacterium necrophorum *

Environmental stress

  • drought, flooding, severe wet and cold weather

The incidence of mortality by disease vectors usually involves the interrelationship of some of the other factors listed


  • reds, euros, wallaroos – breed continuously under good conditions; greys are usually seasonal breeders
  • marsupial reproduction depends on lactation to nourish the poorly developed young; consequently, female marsupials have a greater investment in the care of their young
  • females coming into oestrus extend their area of activity to attract the largest male in that area; so, a large male will be able to mate with more females
  • there are indications that a female (of some species) may invest less in male offspring in years when conditions are poor and that this explains the increased male mortality of young males; the reasoning behind this is that to be a successful breeder a male needs to be large and males raised in poor seasons will never become the dominant male, whereas a female produced during a poor season will still breed and pass on her mother’s genes

Gestation and birth

  • kangaroos have a relatively long gestation period compared to other marsupials ranging from about 31-36 days
  • exhibit embryonic diapause – a viable embryo is carried in the uterus with its development arrested at an early stage (except the Western Grey); development is recommenced after final pouch exit by the previous young
  • mother assists the newly-born into the pouch through pouch cleaning and birth posture (characteristic for each species); in reds, the female brings her tail forward between her hind legs and leans back against a tree while antilopines don’t require back support and greys don’t bring the tail forward; the newborn are visible for about three minutes before disappearing into the pouch


  • in the euro, wallaroos, and red the young is continuously attached to the nipple until 120-130 days
  • composition of the milk is tailored to the requirements of the developing young e.g. around the time of hair formation, there is an increase in sulphur-containing amino acids (hair has a high content of sulphur-containing proteins)
  • facilitates the transfer of immunity to the newborn that is now in an unsterile pouch; around birth the mammary glands secrete a clear fluid that has free-floating cells and maternal immunoglobulins (similar to the colostrum of placental mammals)
  • mother can simultaneously produce milk of two different compositions for the joey that has emerged from the pouch but is not weaned and for the newborn

Emergence from the pouch

  • young first emerges from the pouch usually by falling out; this occurs after 185 days in reds, up to 298 days for western greys
  • mother’s muscles control pouch size and opening; when she is alarmed, the pouch is pulled tight against her body so that the joey cannot emerge; she can relax the pouch and let the joey fall out; she can also contract the pouch and tip the joey out
  • joeys entering the pouch complete a somersault and end up facing the pouch opening
  • even after permanent emergency, the joey will continue to suckle on its usual teat for some months


Western Grey3114
Eastern Grey4818

Social system

  • generally sedentary, home range (the area covered by an individual in the normal activities of feeding, mating, and caring for young) of a few kilometres across; home ranges are not defended
  • show fidelity to the home range, often returning after being forced away to find food in other places during drought


  • grouping of individuals at a resource (food, water, shade); individuals are not necessarily interacting


  • a set of individuals whose home ranges overlap; commonly interact with each other; young animals and a lesser number of adults may disperse to different mobs; sufficient interaction to establish dominance hierarchies in relation to feed and shade for resting


  • social neighbourhood of an individual; members of a group communicate and interact as a unit; consist of less than 6 individuals; mainly females and their offspring, particularly daughters
SpeciesTypical group size*Aggregation sizeHome range size**
Red3 – 420150 ha
Western Grey2 – 16100 ha
Eastern Grey3 – 238020 ha
Eastern Grey  (Tasmania)5
Antilopine3 – 1250female14 ha
male 76 ha
Euro2 – 310-37 ha
* (from Dawson TJ, 1995, p29)
** depends on sex, season, habitat, time span


  • None of the kangaroos are endangered, although locally populations may be limited.

References – books

  • Kangaroos – Biology of the Largest Marsupials, TJ Dawson, 1995. University of New South Wales Press Ltd, Sydney.
  • Encyclopedia of Australian Wildlife, Reader’s Digest Australia Pty Ltd, 1997. Reader’s Digest (Australia) Pty Ltd, Surrey Hills.
  • Complete Book Of Australian Mammals, R Strahan (ed), 1983. Angus & Robertson Publishers, London.